Grave Robbing for Posterity?

I recently watched a documentary about bones being found under a parking lot in England and the slew of tests it took to confirm that they were the remains of the maligned Richard III, that he was essentially a hunchback, and the horrible way he died (and, incidentally, that he likely had a ringworm. Ewwwwe.) These bones have been scanned, recreated using 3D printing, and everything put on display, including the real grave and bones (but farther into the exhibit, likely after payment has been acquired). It’s great for historians and bad for those who think Richard III was a wonderful ruler with perfect posture and that Shakespeare was just being a big meanie-head.

But it got me thinking: when does it stop being a quest for historical truth and documentation and start inching into the realm of grave robbing? His bones are on display, and though they plan to bury him again, they first scanned the bones so that they can essentially keep him on display for all time. After the court case over where to put the real bones is over (I’m not kidding), Richard will be interred in a place a little more suitable than an old battleground turned parking lot.

So, what if it was you? Or your grandmother? Most of those reading (and writing) this aren’t important enough to where anyone would ever want to look at our bones — provided we aren’t murder victims, all the gods forbid. But when I started thinking of my dear grandmother, who passed almost three years ago now, and how it might be to see her bones up on display, it hit home a little more. I don’t care if it is over 500 years in the future; you leave that woman alone.

Richard III died in 1485 — if he does have living relations who knew him well, I suggest we all go talk to Anne Rice and demand to know the story. (She KNOWS something, I tell you.) But even if he was the malicious jerk history has made him out to be, someone used to love him. Someone cared about him. I’m sure if we could pop into a time machine and talk to him, we would discover that he wouldn’t want to be on display for any gawkers in the vicinity with mild curiosity and a little time to kill. Who would? And why? Because he was a king, personified and vilified by both time and clever, sometimes genius writers?

I’m willing to bet that nobody who will ever read this will be a king or a queen (not of the officially coronated kind, anyway). Probably not even a Prince or Princess. Here in the US, we don’t have kings and queens, even if elsewhere they are merely much-celebrated figureheads of a largely dead monarchy. What we DO have are stars — actors, musicians, performers — who we treat like extended parts of a large family of Divine Untouchables. What if someone were, say, to dig up Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in 500 years just to see the framework of their bodies? Or, like Richard III, someone more polarizing like Mel Gibson? At what point does it become exploitation?

Richard III is history (in more ways than one) and I understand that need or desire for documentation. Here is this legendary figure, here is a replica of his bones, inches away from us. In the end — not that it matters what I think — I think that displaying him, or the Egyptian mummies, or countless other artifacts “liberated” from tombs is a tolerable practice and can serve an educational purpose.

Yet, I can’t help but get a chill when I think of it in today’s terms.

~ by Darren Endymion on July 28, 2014.

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